Back in 2004, my senior year, I wanted to wear a turquoise beaded Scala prom dress. I tried it on at a small dress shop in my hometown and immediately fell in love with it. The long column of beading made my 5’10” frame elegant instead of gawky. The color looked great with my white blonde hair and blue eyes, even though my mom wouldn’t let me go to the tanning bed with my friends. I thought that it was the perfect dress. So I snapped a picture and I took it to my RA.
See, I attended a boarding school my senior year of high school. And they decided to keep inappropriate prom attire out of the special occasion by making every girl get her prom dress approved by their resident adviser before she could put her ticket to prom. No, I’m not joking.
Our RA’s had to check to make sure that the dress wasn’t too low-cut, too short, have a high slit or a low back. There were all kinds of fun regulations. Unfortunately, my dress had a cut-out in the lower back of the dress. Cut-outs were forbidden. My beautiful dress was denied.
After crying a little, (what can I say, I was a teenage girl) and complaining to my mother, I headed back to the store to find another prom dress that I didn’t love nearly as much. It did the job and I had a nice time at prom, but I wasn’t nearly as thrilled with the purchase.
Back then, I though that my prom’s dress code was unfair and obnoxious. Now that I’m a mother of a young girl, I still find it obnoxious.
Apparently these prom dress codes didn’t graduate with me back in 2004. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that strict formal-wear guidelines are still alive and well, with some schools have 12 pages or more of rules and examples. The rules are all the same, forbidding low necklines and high hemlines. Schools might not be demanding to approve each dress, but they’re definitely enforcing dress codes at the door.
Even though it might seem like I’m all about revenge for that turquoise Scala dress, it’s not just my personal experience that makes me question the need for prom dress codes. Prom is a single night of the year. As my daughter calls it, prom is a “Cinderella ball for every girl, even if they aren’t princesses.” It’s a special occasion for self-expression and celebration.
For one night, can’t the adults back off a bit and allow their kids to enjoy the experience. Can we step back and let these soon-to-be adults and their parents make appropriate decisions for themselves? I realize that it’s putting a lot of faith and trust in the parents of teenagers, but maybe it’s time to ask what it’s really going to hurt.
We enforce dress codes with the understanding that some clothes distract children from learning in school. A low-cut top on your lab partner might lead to a chemistry mishap. I can understand wanting appropriate attire in the classroom. But whatever is being taught at prom, I promise that low-sling back on a dress isn’t going to interfere with anything.
The fact is, 12 pages of guidelines for a single night make a big deal out of clothes that will only be worn once. It creates stress and tension between schools and students where there doesn’t need to be any.
We tell teenagers “No” all the time. Maybe prom is one area where we could use less rules, not more.
(Photo: Wall Street Journal)